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Warming a willing heart

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On March 21, the country joined the rest of the world to celebrate the World Poetry Day which once again passed silently in the country although some poets came out with poems talking about coronavirus pandemic which continues to claim lots of lives.

World Poetry Day is celebrated on March 21. The day was declared by Unesco in 1999, with the aim of supporting linguistic diversity through poetic expression and increasing the opportunity for endangered languages to be heard.

The purpose is to promote the reading, writing, publishing and teaching of poetry throughout the world.

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One of the poets, whose name has stood out in poetry and inspired a lot of up and coming poets is Benedicto Wokoma-atani Malunga.

Through his powerful and mature verses, Wokoma-atani has given people a treat and continues to do so. One of his poems which has won the hearts of many people and kept them smiling whenever he is reciting is ‘Ndidzakutengera Kunyanja Ligineti’.

This is a powerful romantic poem which most of those that love poetry have labelled it – “a Malawian classic” in their own right.

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Wokoma-atani said the poem was inspired by the beauty of Lake Malawi which he considers to be the most exciting venue, which one can use to spoil a beloved one.

“In my view, it has everything scenic to warm a willing heart with. Put simply, it is a paradise of love in its natural milieu,” he said.

Wokoma-atani said Ligineti does not exist in flesh and blood. “If anything, she is to me what Mona Lisa was to Leonardo Da Vinci, the Italian master painter. That is why I describe her to anybody who cares to listen as my platonic Madonna conceived when I was a young idealist. Because of this, I cannot say she lives,” he explains.

However, the veteran poet, adds that he does know that a lot of poetry followers in the country have happily adopted her as their own because “she has successfully titillated their imagination.

He sums it up that “I have no cause to blame them”. Wokoma-atani said his inspiration to writing began with his fascination with folklore which dominated his life in the early years of his primary school and during vacations in his village.

But as he grew academically and began to taste the poetic outputs of such names like the late John Gwengwe and Ezra Jofiya Chadza, he began to get attached to the literary genre. “I vividly read and memorized the works of these great poets and it is their works that made me start dreaming about being a writer,” he said.

This also pushed Wokomaatani to read voraciously anything that was written well to gather the techniques that would later serve as his basis for the works that he would compose in the years to come.

He also speaks volumes of the cultural renaissance he found at University of Malawi – Chancellor College in Zomba when he was admitted into first year – that provided further impetus as he ended up getting exposed to various forms of writing including poetry in vernacular which he indicates was readily available with the publication of Akoma Akagonera and Other Poems that appeared in Odi magazine.

He said poetry has changed him in various ways as he still strives towards becoming a much more accomplished writer than he is.

“I suppose this is the case because I am one of those people that measure my respect for my audience through the poems I compose for both their reading and listening pleasure and the underlining word in all that is quality,” Wokoma-atani said.

He further added that poetry has turned him into an attentive and reflective listener as consumers of his works have given feedback on what he gives them.

“I have given equal attention to both negative critics and encouraging admirers always being aware that one man’s poison is another’s meat. In the process I have developed a thick skin that comes with maturity,” the poet said.

He also underscored the importance of reading in his pursuit for artistic excellence and that poetry has developed in him an affinity for reading anything readable that can give him rich ideas and the capacity for using language creatively and innovatively to capture the attention of his audience.

“Poetry has tremendously improved my ability to speak in public with clarity and my ability to write with discipline and persuasion. This has been possible because reading about it and composing it, have deepened my understanding and appreciation of language in its various forms of complexity,” Wokoma-atani said.

The veteran poet also said he will always value poetry and give it the much needed respect because it has honed his sense of observation. “I am able to analyse people and ideas critically. That is why I am saying poetry has defined my existence as I churn it out year in year out,” he said.

Although one of his classics speaks about love, the legendary poet, said his poems are characterised by a multiplicity of themes to cater a wide array of interests.

“I must also admit that since my college days when I used to feature regularly in MBC programmes such as Nzeru Nkupangwa and Midweek Magazine, up to now, poetry has been a source of income to me when I have delivered it at special occasions on invitation,” he said.

Wokoma-atani said raising the profile of poetry nationally begins with making it an integral part of our curricula at every level and ensuring that it is taught by highly ompetent teachers, who are able to deliver it in an exciting manner so that those learning it appreciate that it is a worthwhile adventure. Furthermore, Wokoma-atani encourages musicians to partner with poets so that their works can be converted into touching and beautiful music.

According to him, world over, the best music is usually that which has been beautifully couched with poetic devices. In this regard, he looks at the works of songs by international artists like Lionel Ritchie, The Beatles, Jim Reeves and other country and western musicians.

“Locally, Lucius Banda’s ‘Kheliwe’ and ‘Nthawi’ come to mind. Even our own national anthem was composed like a powerful poem,” he said. The poet, said radio stations that have proliferated in the country in recent years could also play a catalytic role in popularizing poetry by deploying it in well-wrought jingles marketing various products.

While ‘Ndizakutengera  Kunyanja Ligineti’ made him a name, Wokoma-atani, said all the poems he writes are his favourite. However, he said poems like your own children behave differently such that some bring you greater honour than others with their impact on their audience. “In my case, those poems are ‘Siananso Awa’, ‘Tinali Tokhatokha’, ‘Mangochi Landire’, ‘ Komwe Alenga Chikondicho’, ‘Nasiwelo’, ‘Khulukire Bonize’, and ‘Ndizakutengera Kunyanja Ligineti’.

He ends it all with advice to budding writers that they need to be consistent with what he has always mentioned and that becoming a poet does not happen overnight.

“If it were this easy, everybody would have become a poet,” Wokoma-atani said.

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